Recently I shared on facebook a blog post I had read regarding the recent fire and the theology practiced at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (you can read that article here).
A Roman Catholic friend of mine, who I admire, responded to the post in disagreement. In his response, he took issue with the doctrine of justification by faith alone (known as Sola Fide in Latin) and quoted James 2:14-17 before stating Sola Fide and Sola Scripture are not Biblical terms.
For those who aren’t aware Sola Fide (Latin: Faith Alone) and Sola Scriptura (Latin: Scripture Alone) are two of five notable terms that were coined during the Reformation to express core Biblical doctrines. The other three terms are Sola Gratia (Latin: Grace Alone), Solus Christo (Latin: Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (Latin: To the Glory of God Alone).
While there are many points protestants and Roman Catholics can agree upon, there are momentous disagreements over core elementary points, as these five Solas display.
One of the biggest points of disagreement is on the nature of salvation, and how our works relate to our salvation.
Although the phrase “Sola Fide” (Latin: By Faith Alone) doesn’t appear in scripture, it’s repeatedly taught throughout scripture, which I’ll lay out below (trying to be brief).
Paul’s Teaching in Ephesians
I’ll start in Ephesians where Paul reminds the Christians at Ephesus of who they used to be. They were formally spiritually dead, they followed the word, they lived to satisfy their flesh, they relied upon earthly wisdom and thinking, and they were rightfully subject to God’s wrath just as everyone else infected by Adam’s original sin (Eph 2:1-3).
However, God is merciful, and motivated by His love, He gives these spiritually dead people life. So “by grace [they/Christians] have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5). And throughout the future, God will display his kindness toward believers (Eph 2:7).
Paul then summarizes this by writing: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9).
So, there is nothing about me that attracted salvation, not my personality, works, intelligence, anything. Instead, salvation was solely granted by God’s gracious gift of faith. If there were anything about me or my works that contributed to my salvation in any means, I would have grounds for boasting, but I don’t. Salvation only comes because God has given life to those who are spiritually dead.
Paul then describes Christians as a result of God’s work (having been saved by God’s grace), and states we’re called to do good works (Eph 2:10). So good works grow out of the new life we’ve been given, and are not a condition of salvation. Hence we are saved solely by God’s grace alone, through faith alone.
Paul’s Teaching in Galatians
Likewise, Paul reminds the Galatians that salvation is by faith alone and even calls it the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). Paul then continues by saying no one is justified [saved] by works of the law, but by faith in Christ, and no one can ever be justified by works of the law (Gal 2:16).
Paul states that it’s wrong to return to seeking righteousness through acts of the law, and if we had too than Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:18-19, 21). Instead, he holds up that the spiritual life we’ve been given (God dwelling in us) is to be lived by faith (Gal 2:20). Paul calls it foolish if we think we must return to works to maintain/secure our salvation (Gal 3:3)
Jesus’ Teaching in the Gospel of John
Likewise, Jesus himself taught that there’s nothing we can do to contribute to our own salvation. When talking with Nicodemus, Jesus states the only way someone can “see [be apart of] the kingdom of God” is if they are “born again” (John 3:3) by the Spirit of God (John 3:5-7).
Just as I was unable to contribute to my physical birth, I’m likewise unable to contribute to my spiritual birth. Instead, God’s Spirit grants rebirth by His grace and direction (John 3:8).
Reconciling Paul & Jesus with James
Given all this, do we need to reconcile this with James? Yes, because “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16), and “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33).
Throughout his entire letter James is setting out tests to help believers determine if their faith is genuine; “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:3)
So when James asks “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14) he’s not intending to contradict Paul. What he’s doing is contrasting genuine faith to false faith.
Jesus said people must be reborn [made alive] by the Spirit (John 3:3-8). Paul wrote that salvation isn’t dependent upon good works (Eph 2:8-9), but good works follow salvation (Eph 2:10). Paul reminded the Galatian Christians that Christ lives in them (Gal 2:20), and the result of that Spirit living in them has fruit (Gal 5:22-23).
James is making the same case. He’s asking Christians to test their faith to see if it’s genuine. If it’s genuine, there will be good works that grow from it. If it’s not genuine, can that faith save him? No, because it’s a dead, false faith (James 2:17).
James isn’t an argument against Sola Fide, but instead a reminder that a sign of saving faith is good works. If there are no good works, it’s not saving faith.
As Paul pointed out in Gal. 2:14 justification by faith alone is an essential truth of the gospel, and he lays out a clear warning against anyone who would preach contrary to that gospel (Gal. 1:9), which is why Rome teaching a different soteriology is dangerous.
So, while the term “Sola Fide” doesn’t appear in scripture, the doctrine is taught in scripture. We cannot exclude terms solely because they were coined since the writing of scripture.
Another important term that doesn’t appear in scripture is “Trinity.” And while it doesn’t appear in scripture, it is an essential doctrine which Roman Catholics do recognize.
Fundamental doctrines can be taught in scripture without using specific terms that have developed over time.